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‘Thin blue line’ masks, clothing banned for staff in Maryland district courts

A “thin blue line” flag.
A “thin blue line” flag. (Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters)

The chief judge for Maryland district courts ordered all court employees on duty or in service of the court to stop wearing any items that display blue line logos to signify support for law enforcement, according to a memo sent to employees this week.

Chief Judge John P. Morrissey issued the directive in response to a May 4 letter from Maryland Public Defender Paul DeWolfe, who complained that the wearing of such masks, pins and clothing emerged as a fair trial issue in courtrooms statewide.

“The ‘thin blue line’ is commonly depicted as a black and white rendition of the American flag with a blue stripe running just under the stars, with the ‘thin blue line’ itself representing the belief that the police are the only thing that stands between order and chaos,” DeWolfe said in his letter. “It has been adopted by the ‘Blue Lives Matter’ movement, which launched in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and has been associated at times with white supremacist groups.”

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DeWolfe’s letter highlighted instances in 15 jurisdictions where bailiffs, sheriffs, courtroom staff and officers testifying at hearings were seen wearing such apparel.

The public defender argued that courtroom employees were an extension of the presiding judge and allowing staff to wear items that displayed blue lines diminished the notion of impartiality, especially for Black citizens appearing in court.

“To allow these masks to be worn by courtroom staff during the hearings and trials of our clients, a large swath of them Black, denies to them the appearance that their hearing is being conducted fairly and without bias,” DeWolfe’s letter said.

Morrissey appeared to agree, as he wrote that wearing logos “which may be perceived as showing bias or favoritism to a particular group of people could undermine the District Court’s mission.”

“The Judiciary must maintain itself as an unbiased and independent branch of Maryland state government,” Morrissey wrote.

The policy took immediate effect and applied to all employees, including bailiffs, commissioners, clerks and judges, according to the memo.

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